Thursday, September 22, 2016

Love Has No Boundaries: The Daniel Story (Part 2)

My favorite picture <3

It's been over a week since Daniel made his way to Wilmington, NC to meet my students, me and his new buddy, Jack! The entire experience was one I am still trying to digest. I think it was a couple of days after this whirlwind, 28 hour visit that I finally took a deep breath, reflected on everything and let the moment hit me.

Daniel Arrived on Sunday Evening

The plan was for Jack and his family, me and my family and a group of women who have been praying for Daniel to meet him, Yvonne (his caregiver from New Life Home in Kenya) and Jane Stephens (owner of Amani Children's Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC) at the Wrightsville Beach Park. It was quite the gathering and lots of fun! I had no idea when I suggested this park just how great it would be! There were so many things for all of the kids to play on and even a Bubble Soccer game going on. If you don't know what that is, just imagine a giant, blown up ball that kids can climb inside, hold onto the handles and smash into each other!
As we were waiting for Daniel's arrival, the energy was super high! Finally, when Jane pulled the car into a parking spot, we all gathered around waiting for him to get out. I kept hearing from the kids, "I am so nervous", "this is awesome" and even "I've never experienced something like this before". I felt like my heart was going to explode! After a quick diaper change, Daniel made his way over to us!! He was a bit wobbly which I learned is part of the 'learning to hear' stage he is in right now. I never knew that our hearing, or lack of hearing, correlated so much with our balance.
When Daniel walked over to the group, he fit right in! Jack brought a soccer ball and Daniel started to throw it into the air with the various people standing around. By that time, I had tears streaming down my face and was just hanging back, watching in awe.
Throughout the rest of the evening at the park, the kids played with Daniel; going down the slides, using the giant steering wheel (he loves anything that spins!) and just plain running around!

Daniel getting out of the car with Yvonne

The kids

It's Birthday Celebrations All Around!

After the park, Daniel, Yvonne, Jane, me and Jack and his family went back to Jack's house. Earlier, we had set up to surprise Daniel and Yvonne with a birthday party! Daniel's birthday is August 29 and Yvonne's is September 20 - same as Jack's! When they walked in, we had a cake with candles, balloons and presents! Yvonne loved her gifts and Daniel's favorites seemed to be the books and an airplane that Jack and his brothers picked out.
We ate the cake and had ice cream in between playing with all of the presents.  It was the best birthday party I have ever been to! I also got a chance to talk with Yvonne about her experiences as a teacher in Kenya and what it is like for her to be here in the United States. I have to say that the pure love and respect both Yvonne and Jane have for children is so inspiring to be around. Every little piece of material or craft or gift that was given to Daniel, whether it be a note from one of my students or a present from me or a folded up paper crown, Yvonne took it with care and placed it gently in a box for Daniel where she collected everything that came for him from the people who met him. She told me that everything will go with him back to Kenya, and stay with him as part of his story. I can't tell you how unbelievable and truly refreshing it was to see that kind of care go into a child's memories which he will have forever. By the end of the night, I (tried) to help Yvonne get Daniel ready for bed. I got to hold him and rock him in my arms right before he was washed up and put in the pack and play for bedtime. I stayed up chatting with everyone until about 11pm. I was exhausted and looking forward to the next day with my students. I was so ready for bed, but I when I got home, I sifted through the hundreds of pictures from just that evening, finally laying down for bed at midnight.

Wearing their special gifts from Kenya

Setting up beforehand 

Chocolate Cake!!

Jack and his brothers, Archie and Baines made a giant picture for Daniel and Yvonne

Daniel's Day at Friends School of Wilmington

When I got to school the next day, I knew I had to teach Social Studies and Math before everyone else would meet Daniel and totally regretted not getting a sub for two hours (just kidding, I wouldn't have done that anyway!). Mid-morning the 5th and 6th graders got together and planned for Daniel's arrival. There were four stations of fun!! Face painting and blocks, Play dough, Beading and an Obstacle Course - all planned and set up by the students! I was so proud of them! At one point a couple of news crews came to cover the story!! I saw Jack getting interviewed and the rest of the kids running around decorating, setting up and just extreme excitement and happiness beaming from all over that I wish I had taken a moment to soak it all in. Instead, I was teachering! I love it though!

Finally, Daniel arrived to the classroom. The kids LOVED HIM!!!! One of the songs Daniel knows is the Itsy Bitsy Spider and when he came through the door, the kids all started to quietly sing the song to him and do the hand motions. He played along and clapped at the end! It was seriously magical. I think my favorite part about this entire experience. Seeing my students play with him and hug him was also a moment I will never forget. Their compassion and love showed through in a way that was so pure and real that I just know these will be the people who will continue to make a difference in our world.

By the end of the day, I was beat!! We took Daniel to the beach and the poor guy was afraid of the big, blue ocean, but joined a family in a game I called: Build a sandcastle and let Daniel knock it down. It was so cute! He kept eyeing the ocean every now and again which made me think eventually he would want to get in, but that never happened. We tried and failed. It's ok though! He really liked the sand and his new friends he made!

When we came back to Jack's house, we watched the news casts about the whole day. That was fun! Daniel kept looking up at the screen making the cute noises he always makes! I really enjoyed listening to him listen to himself! I started to miss that when I was looking through the pictures and reflecting on the entire experience.
Jane tells students how special they are and presents them with soapstones from Kenya!

Jack being interviewed 

Daniel loved the play dough!

The classes love Daniel!

Where is Daniel Now?!

Now, Daniel is back in Indianapolis continuing his therapy until him and Yvonne take off back to Kenya. He will go back to New Life Home  (along with Yvonne who will stay with him) and hopefully be adopted by a loving, Kenya family. The journey is not over yet. There are so many things that are in store for Daniel and I look forward to seeing what  exactly they are. He is a special boy who has touched the hearts of so many people. His life has been changed forever and not just because he can hear, but he will grow up knowing that there were people thousands of miles away who made sure he got what he deserved. We all did something because we are part of what is good in the world and that is a beautiful thing.
My second favorite picture ;-)

We are still collecting gifts for Daniel as this entire process (travel, surgery, batteries and therapy, etc) will end up costing about $100,000! We got him this far and I know we can get him there all the way. If you are interested in donating, please visit the Go Fund Me page and make a contribution. Daniel deserves it all!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Kindness Matters, The Daniel Story (Part 1)

BElieve THEre is GOOD in the World

Every once in a lifetime something amazing happens and you almost can't believe it. You pause for a half a second and think that this might be too good to be true, but then snap back to this new reality of the fact that this amazing, wonderful, truly unbelievable thing is actually happening and you are there to be a part of it. Next Monday, I will get to witness the beauty and miracle of people. I will be experiencing what being a teacher is really all about - making a difference. Of course, I didn't do it alone! Sometimes I feel like I didn't actually DO anything, but I chuckle and think that is just silly. We all had a part in this: me, my students, my family, my friends, strangers, caregivers, teachers I have never met and students I have never met. That's also the beauty and miracle of people. All of the most amazing things that happen in our world are never the doing of just one person. It can start with one person, one thing, one event, one idea, one sentence, one word, one thought, but nothing truly astonishing or earth-shatteringly crazy awesome ever happens by the doing of just one single person. That fact is what I find to be so reassuring and exciting about this whole experience. The ripple effect of kindness is where we can begin to celebrate. The good deed itself? We never usually get to see where our good deeds end up, how they changed someone's life. When we do a good deed, it changes us in a small, but important way. We feel a little bit better about something. We know that we are the good in the world and move on to finish living our life until the opportunity to do another act of kindness shows itself. But on Monday, my students and I get to see, with our very own eyes, the culmination of our good deeds combined with others and how they changed someone's life.

So What Happened?!

Every week before Labor Day weekend, I assign my students the simple task of going out into their world and performing a good deed. It can be anything from washing a car for someone, to leaving flowers at a doorstep, to donating to a charity, to smiling and saying hello and asking a new student to play. Literally anything that would add a little sunshine into someone's life. Last school year, my student Jack decided to take his spending money and donate to a charity called the Amani Children's Foundation in Winston-Salem, NC (a foundation that partners with New Life Home in Nairobi, Kenya to give babies care, love and learning until adopted by a loving Kenyan family). A couple weeks after Jack sent his money to Amani Children's Foundation, he received a letter from Jane at Amani. That is when my class and I learned about Daniel.

In Jane's letter, she expressed gratitude for Jack's gift. She said it came at just the right moment. Jane had been working with New Life Home in Kenya to help Daniel, a newborn who was found by an older women that saw him by a trash heap, covered in rags the day after the tragic terrorist attack in Nairobi in 2013. This brave woman took Daniel to New Life Home when the entire town was so riveted by the terrorist attack that no one was on the streets, but at home staying safe. New Life Home worked to save this dying baby and with their care and love, he survived and developed seemingly just as his peers. However, as Daniel grew older, it was discovered that he was completely deaf. One by one, his friends around him were chosen for adoption.

In the summer of 2015, an Amani intern, Casey from Indianapolis fell in love with Daniel. She held a bead party to raise money and arranged for Daniel to get surgery from Dr. Copeland for Cochlear implants. This is a procedure that is not available in Kenya. When Jane from Amani (North Carolina) heard that Dr. Copeland was willing to do the surgery and that Casey earned enough to pay the cost of supplies, Jane vowed that Amani would raise the funds to bring Daniel from Kenya to the US for his surgery. That was the day Jack's donation arrived. This was the inspiration Jane and everyone at Amani needed to keep fighting for Daniel to one day be able to hear!

When Jack shared this letter with our class last September, it brought tears to my eyes. The rest of the class felt the same way because after Jack read the letter, the kids were determined to make this happen for Daniel, too! The plan became to place an envelope at the front of the room and kids would put money inside as they did chores, etc at home and earned money for Daniel. Every Friday, Jack took the money from the envelope and gave it to his mom to send to Amani for Daniel. Later that week, my mom arrived at our school to celebrate a character's birthday from a book that teaches the value of being kind. We had a birthday cake and all! We shared Jane's letter with my mom and she was so touched that she wrote Amani Children's Foundation a check for $200 and placed it in our classroom envelope! My students then started to think, "If we shared this letter with her and got $200, imagine if we shared this story with more people! We could raise all of the money Daniel needs to get his Cochlear implants!" And so as suggested by my mom, Jack's mom started a Go Fund Me page for Daniel.

Through that Go Fund Me page, there have been many donations! We were interviewed by a local newspaper and our story was shared and more people started giving! I asked family members, friends and colleagues. My students kept collecting money and telling more people. My little cousin, who when she heard about Daniel, said she wanted to donate $3,000, but settled on $300 also set up lemonade stands to help raise even more! Teachers from other schools in town heard about Daniel and donated money on the Go Fund Me page. If you look on that page, you will see some donations have a little note attached; all sharing their support and love for Daniel.

The day I got this email from Jack, we were all convinced that this would happen for Daniel one way or another!

My cousin Jada and her friend running their Lemonade Fundraiser!

Who is Daniel?

Along with updates on the process of getting Daniel his surgery, Jane sent emails and letters helping us to get to know this special little boy a bit better. Below are some excerpts from her writings to us:

"Daniel is active and independent, always eager to move about and try something new. However, he also connects wonderfully with caretakers, volunteers and peers. His interactions utilize vision, and especially touch."

"Daniel is often seen looking upward at the sky, or focusing on an outward object trying to discover the world around him with his eyes. When with another person, he connects through touch. He will feel the different texture of your clothes or hair, but is especially gentle for a young child. Daniel seems especially comforted when one holds his hand or rubs his arm, communicating back with touch. Daniel will never object to this kind of affection."

"Daniel's kindness, perseverance and gentle manner make him a true blessing to anyone around him."

"This whole enterprise has been exciting as this charming two year old has pulled individuals from Kenya to Indy to Wilmington to work on his behalf against all odds."

"Harambee!" ("let's all pull together" in Swahili)

It was in January that my class learned about some of the setbacks that occurred. At one point, the x-rays that were sent to Dr. Copeland from Kenya were ruined somehow and came up blank when he opened them. Jane also took the time to write a long letter to our class explaining the process to have Daniel and his caregiver Yvonne obtain visas to come to the United States which was a bit of a shock to us. We had no idea what it takes to get people into our country just for a visit to the doctor, especially how hard for a child with no official birth records!

However, this past June, Daniel and Yvonne made their way to Indianapolis and Daniel received his surgery from Dr. Copeland!

Yvonne, Daniel and Dr. Copeland!

Yvonne & Daniel after surgery 


Daniel's first night of hearing!

Daniel is coming to Wilmington!

Over the summer, I also learned that Daniel would be making his way from Indianapolis to Wilmington, NC so he can meet more of the people who had his back and helped get him his surgery!! I can't even begin to explain how unbelievable this truly is! Almost like a fairy tale that the kids get to see their good deeds come full-circle when they meet Daniel and hug and kiss him and play with him! 

To plan for his arrival, students decided they would like to meet him in our classroom and then take him to the Garden House on campus to have lunch and play activities in different stations! My (now) 6th graders put together a play dough station, a face-painting/dancing/blocks station, a beading station and an obstacle course with a scavenger hunt!

The next thing students did was make a page with a picture and a letter to Daniel. We are going to bind them all together to make a book for him to take back to Kenya! This will serve as his reminder of how much he is loved by so many people!! 

In Jane's first letter to Jack in Sept 2015, she ended it with this: "My prayer is that you and your family will be able to visit New Life Home some time in the next few years. By that time, God willing, Daniel will be a robust little boy with an adoptive Kenyan family and will be able to hear!!"

Little did anyone know that it would be Daniel traveling to Wilmington to meet all of us!! Funny how things turn out!

Stay tuned to check out Daniel's visit to our school on Monday, September 12th!

6th Graders writing letters to Daniel

Jack noticed that Daniel wears a headband and wanted to make him a crown to wear over it!

A couple of girls wanted to make sure Daniel remembers the name of our school and where we come from 

We are still collecting gifts for Daniel as this entire process (travel, surgery, batteries and therapy, etc) will end up costing about $100,000! We got him this far and I know we can get him there all the way. If you are interested in donating, please visit the Go Fund Me page and make a contribution. Daniel deserves it all!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Classroom Management: Put in the Time to Save Time!

My personal philosophy on classroom management boils down to this: Put in the Time to Save Time.

At the beginning of the school year, I focus very much on social skills, expectations, and procedures. I truly believe that when students know how the classroom functions, there is more room for learning. I have seen teachers who ignore the need to teach these things at the beginning of the school year and it ends up interrupting the classroom and wastes so much time. If I could give first year teachers any bit of advice, I would say spend as much time on procedures and expectations as needed! I remember one year, I had to literally repeat how to come to the carpet from their desks five times before my cute little third graders did it correctly! Thankfully, by the time they come to me (now) in 5th grade they can pretty much follow classroom procedures after they are explained. However... my little lovelies do benefit greatly by explicitly being taught social skills and how to get along with one another respectfully. 

I block out a time in my day to teach these skills and add any others, as needed:
1. Advocate for Oneself
2. Make a Complaint
3. Make an Apology
4. Disagree Appropriately
5. Choose Appropriate Words 

The procedure is (Day 1) brainstorm what why the skill is important and discuss how it can help facilitate a productive classroom, friendship, family life, etc. I share with them the poster for steps to follow in order to be successful with this social skill. Then students complete a "Think Sheet" as homework which is provided for every skill in the book, More Tools for Teaching Social Skills in School Grades 3-12
(Day 2) Role Play situations in which the skill would be practiced. I mostly do this in small groups and sometimes with partners.
(Day 3) Students play Community Building game to enhance the bond between each other (Great Group Games Book)
(Day 4) Real life - We discuss when they have used this skill in the past week. How did it turn out? Were you successful? If not, why? If so, why? How did it feel?

I hang the posters up around the classroom and continue to refer to them for the rest of the school year. I have a Class Meeting once a week and sometimes this is a great moment to reflect on these skills. I also am able to refer to the posters when students come to me privately with a problem. I have found that these 5 skills are the ones that, typically, my fifth graders need guidance in using. However, I have added more as the year goes on, as necessary.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Check Out My Writing Center!

I am taking my classroom piece by piece as I get ready for the school year. Today I worked a little bit on my Writing Center (along with organizing a box of posters I never use anymore, but refuse to throw away, cleaning and reorganizing my giant bookshelf behind my desk, and straight cleaning dirt off of things!). I kept everything the same as in the past few years, but added something a little special....

 Each of the boxes on the shelf hold supplies (extra lined paper, white boards, clipboards, dictionaries and thesauruses). The black box on the last shelf is for published student work) 

Notice that binder behind the pens? I put that together in an effort to keep all of the anchor charts I use during each writing unit! The *plan* is to keep adding to the binder as I work my way through lessons and then students will have a place to go for reference and reminders. 

The binder is set up by genre, although I have the very first section as a plethora of topics for when students get stuck and can't think of any ideas!

After I begin the Narrative Writing Unit and every time I use an anchor chart during a lesson, I will place it in the Narrative Writing section in the binder. If anyone is absent or needs a reminder of the lesson, that is where he or she should go. It's perfect! I made it easy for myself so I can keep up with it. It's easy because I use a document camera to project the anchor charts that I use, so they are all the size of a regular piece of paper. This is also easy because I make these charts on the computer and not on poster paper. 

This next idea I "borrowed" from another teacher many years ago when I was scouring blogs, so I forget who it was, but I love it! I put each student name on a cut-out of a pencil and a magnet on the back. The trays are from the Dollar Tree. I glued thumbtacks to the back of those so I could hang them from the wall. Students track where they are in the writing center by moving their pencil from one step in the writing process to the next. I have my pencil up there, too. That way, students can judge how far behind they are if they are not working in the same step as where my pencil is placed. I also use a calendar at the front of the room where I will label each week with what step of the writing process I will be teaching. Over the years, I realized that these two methods are the best ways to keep students on track and accountable for their work. 

If you are interested in any of the writing units that I teach, feel free to click on the links below to get a preview!
But, first! Check out how I organize the writing materials (notebook and binders) the students use by clicking on the link! How I Organize Student Writing Material



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